What You’re Thinking Now Is a Chunk of Marble
“The readjustment to gravity was not always easy. Jack Lousma, for example, accidentally let a bottle of aftershave lotion smash on the bathroom floor when he momentarily forgot that he could no longer let the bottle hang in midair, as he could in the zero gravity aboard Skylab. Fellow astronaut Owen Garriott lost his balance on his first evening back home when his wife turned off the lights as they were going upstairs to bed. ‘I can’t stand up unless I have a visual reference,’ he complained. Helen Garriott flicked the lights back on and his balance was restored.”
—Readjusting to Gravity, Time Magazine, October 15, 1973
A branch cracks. Eric calls my name, and as I raise my eyes, the top of my head explodes in a cold star of pain. My idea, for him to climb up and wait in the leaves where we’d hoped to build the treehouse. My idea, to stand beneath. Also my idea to secure the two-by-four with a bow knot—assuming it would stay balanced as I jerked the rope’s other end, and it rose through the sugar maple. The next thing, I’m coming to in the arms of my crying friend. His mother runs out and helps me into the kitchen where I wait on a stool near the sink as she phones my mother. She hands me a piece of yellow cake on a plate. I eat that piece and she hands me another.
If I fall to the deck, no problem. If I miss the deck, problem—I’ll tumble one further story onto the driveway. That must be why Sarah’s popsicled with fear holding the ladder. “Next year,” she says, “we’ll buy a bigger ladder and you’ll get to the roof from the backyard.” Clambering onto the shingles ready to pull leaf muck from the gutters, noticing that it’s been a long time since I was on a roof. I’m almost dizzy now, especially close to an edge. I keep this to myself, ask Sarah to go get my camera and take a picture of me up here with my trowel. I assume a nonchalant air as she taps the screen, adding, “Hurry up now and get down.”
Approaching the edge looking out over the valley. Seeing nothing, no ladder, no deck, I tell myself, Take this slowly. Pay attention to what you’re doing. I sit on the roof edge, let my legs dangle into the void. Scoot forward. Finally I see the top of the ladder—this is not a step—Sarah underneath gripping the wood and looking up at me as if I’d already fallen. My feet meet wood. The ladder shimmies. I step onto the next rung, still facing away from the house, the pines along the slope, the road below that. With one fist, I grip the roof behind, turn slowly to face the house, and continue my way down. Stepping onto the deck, I reach to pry each of her hands from the sides of the ladder.
What I know about gravity is this: every object in the universe attracts every other with a force equal to their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. So, gravity pulls us all to one another; it’s just a matter of how big you are versus how far apart you find yourselves. Between little things, like you and me and the cat, we can’t feel it. With big things, like mother earth and you and me and the cat, we feel us tiny things being pulled toward the center of the massive thing. In space, it makes things orbit the sun, the moon circle us, the earth plow the same fields of meteoroids every year. We slip, we fall. We drop a box of cocktail toothpicks. They hit the floor exploding in a multicolored mess we sort of want to applaud until we remember we’ll have to clean them all up before the cat tries to swallow one.
In the yard, with nothing but a shirt on, I picture myself flopping onto the lawn face-first and not moving. Then I think of you coming home, finding me and thinking I’d had a heart attack. I picture you in a split-second trauma and give up the idea. I go inside and put on mambo music, thinking that will be a nice ambiance for when you come home from the hardware store. We’ve eaten hardly any of the two bags of tart Northern Spies bought at the apple festival last week. I doubted we would, but you were so excited to get a second bag after tasting one from the first. That’s why I’d asked, at the information kiosk hours earlier, if they had an ATM. The kid silently reached outside the window to point at the machine three feet to my left. The security guard next to him looked at me. I accepted the $3.75 surcharge to make sure I’d have enough cash to say yes if you wanted a second bag of the pale green near-spheres, each about the size of your face. You had to revolve the fruit, then your head, to get the first bite. Like two planets meeting in space. Or like someone trying to sink her teeth into a wall.
SARAH: A billion kajillion years ago, some meteorites fell in an area that is now a town called Brenham, in western Kansas, in Kiowa County. Then, about a billion kajillion years later, my grandpa Elmer Hoffmeister bought some land near Brenham—Brenham itself is not really a town, it’s a grain elevator with the word Brenham at the top—and began farming it. My grandpa passed away ten years ago, and that land went to my grandma Menta. My grandma passed away eight years ago, and my mom inherited the parcel of land. It turns out that a meteorite hunter figured out that there were some, down there, and they’re called pallasites. So, he dug up a couple, and one of them was worth $35,000 or something like that crazy. And so my mom and dad gave us some money so we could put a down payment on a house, which is why we call the house Brenham Rise, because it was made out of a meteorite that fell in Brenham about a kajillion years ago. The end.
ME: Not “the end” yet.
SARAH: People take these meteorites, and they cut them into pieces and make them into jewelry. They are really beautiful. My mom gave us a slice, and we put it in a little frame and stuck it beside the sink.
ME: [Goes into the kitchen to fetch the meteorite. Places it in her hand.] What does it look like?
SARAH: It’s got browns and reds and yellow and whites. It’s polished so it’s shiny—there’s this one part that looks like an ice crystal, but it’s not an ice crystal. It looks a little bit like a map.
ME: What does it look like a map of?
SARAH: It looks like a map of a place that we don’t know about yet.
It’s true, we’ve found a few apples on the back lawn. Holding one of the gnarled, yellowish knots, we peer up the slope into the woods, searching out the familiar apple tree shape. So far, no luck. Either they’re dropping upon us from the stars, or there’s a tree far enough up the hill to be obscured, except for what reaches us on its slow roll down toward the street and beyond that to the center of the earth. “Or maybe it’s squirrels,” Sarah adds. “Yeah,” I say, “maybe that.”
A partial list of things known to have fallen unexpectedly out of the sky: meat, sugar, diamonds, frogs, spiders, nondairy creamer, fish, golf balls, blood, mud, doors, a shark, a cow, hay, corn, sodium polyacrylate, a puppy, poison, worms, star jelly, sewage, stones, money, a canoe paddle, apples, human bodies.
It’s true, along a different end of our backyard, we sometimes find black walnuts in the lawn. Holding one of these richly perfumed, heavy spheres in the hand, we look up into the woods. Not a walnut tree in sight. I look at Sarah. She looks at my hand, takes the pale sphere with its sandpapery skin and tosses it back up the slope. Maybe it’ll grow a walnut tree, and then we’ll know where they’re coming from.
I’ll just come right out and say it—I’m on a long journey and not sure where to. I don’t think I want to reach the end. What’s there I haven’t got already, or left when I first set out? It feels so good to stretch the legs. And to find love. What won’t we do? I’ll follow you to the apple festival. I love apples. Tents full of cinnamon draft excluders, glitter-dipped pinecones, and vegan dog nibbles— organic or otherwise—not so much. All around us, right now, orchards, skies worth of Zestars hanging by the tops of their heads, quivering in the early autumn heat. The earth down there as always—out of which the tree grew—with its jaws open, teeth you can’t see but feel if you walk barefoot. Discovering the dull metal flake in what would have been my last bite of pulled pork, thinking what have I already eaten? This morning, weeks later, I’m still alive. You’re away on a business trip—before I opened my eyes I reached for your cold pillow, forming the shape with my arms where you should be.
I bring a book, a Golden Delicious apple, something to drink, and lay back against the shingles to spend the afternoon with Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. Then I toss down my book and empty Coke can—the apple core I release over the side facing my pet pygmy goat’s pen. Dangling my legs into the air over the side, I scoot forward and let gravity take me. Believing I’ve discovered a new way of lessening the impact of a body with the earth, I land with my legs bent at the knee, touch the ground with both my hands, then leap back into the air as if the earth were a trampoline. When I grow up, I’ll share my technique with NASA.
During a birthday party, I convince a half dozen of my little friends that the next fun thing to do would be to all go jump off the garage roof. This we do, over and over, fl